1. klk.yangon
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    klk.yangon Member

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    Literary fiction vs. Commercial (Genre) fiction

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by klk.yangon, Oct 5, 2011.

    A'right, I know literary writers are kind of rare today but, well I'm into it. So....I am kinda seeking preference from the point of readers and critiques. Given a chance to read either a fabulous supernatural fiction or a witch-craft of convolution, what would you read. And would you ever consider reading the latter kind of writing. A random sentence from my piece would be :
    "Placated with the boys a go for the tree, tree destruction, tree for wood, wood for tree, tree prospection, a tree house, poor tree, but annoying sawdust which smelled of saw dust, a blunt whipsaw and the vigor was loosened, and double the woe of that poor tree – left undead."

    To be frank, I want to ask if it would ever sell.
     
  2. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    What's the choice, here?

    In the immortal words of Soupy Sales, just what exactly do we mean by that? It's an incredibly obtuse sentence that is working very hard not to say anything (or, if it IS saying something, is keeping it a closely guarded secret).

    Not to me. And I doubt to anyone else.
     
  3. Dithnir
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    Dithnir Member

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    In answer to the thread's title, I prefer literary fiction. It is profoundly more satisfying and challenging. As for your random sentence, it can't work without context, it might work in literary fiction, but don't confuse literary fiction with experimental fiction.
     
  4. Manav
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    Manav Contributing Member

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    I prefer literary fiction, but I hate purple prose!
     
  5. Croga
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    Croga Member

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    I read 'serious' fiction and I read 'popular' fiction.
    Your line, is trying very hard. Even aesthetes like Wilde and old poets like Dante were able to avoid such pointlessly flowery nothings. Literary fiction to me is not a 300 page poem, but a great book with tangible breathing characters and lovely description that hides the fact it was written by being subtle. You add this with punchy dialog and a healthy conflict and the story has merit as a true work of art.
    If I read a book of your writing it would feel like I had a learning difficulty in that every single small detail was jumping out at me. With sensory overload stilting the progress of the story and distracting me from everything going on the book will read as if it should of been a poem.
    Description exists to be subtle in creating a world to give your characters a stage, but when the story exists to house description you have a problem.
    Your A/B choice is not sufficient to sum up the two types of fiction. The difference is not merely complexity. One can thesaurus every word for the oldest, most out of date and hard to pronouce alterantive and they could then rewrite a John Grisham using this, but just because cat is feline does not make it a better book.
    I would read a something that was written with no genre in mind and that had whatever merits it needs to be literary fiction, but I would not read a book that was written deliberately complex just to be high brow.
     
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  6. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I love good literary fiction. A good literary writer (IMO) is, among other things, one who uses prose to convey more than just basic information; literary prose can manipulate the reader's emotions through rhythm, metaphor, imagery, and other elements of technique. But a good literary writer uses these techniques to enhance the experience of reading, not to baffle the reader.

    I think the sentence you offered as an example, which I'm still trying to parse, is baffling. As Dithnir pointed out above, it needs context, but as it stands, I don't like it.
     
  7. agentkirb
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    agentkirb Contributing Member

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    I'm still not completely sure the difference between the two, but I imagine I probably fall into the Genre fiction category. I have very specific taste when it comes to books. Usually I read mystery or suspense novels, and specifically the ones that aren't gritty or too dark. I prefer stories with complex characters and plot points that give you something to think about.

    That's not to say that I don't read other genres, I certainly have. But I know I'm more interested in the facts of the story moreso than the way it is written.
     
  8. Mallory
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    Mallory Mallegory. Contributor

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    This strongly reminds me of Samuel Beckett's "Watt." It's the kind of sentence that would be fun to analyze if there's only a few, but if the entire book is written that way, it's going to be hard to read, and trying to figure out the meaning of each sentence will distract readers from the story at hand.

    Literary fiction shouldn't be deliberately hard to read. It should rely on rhetorical devices, syntax usage and other non-semantic ways of conveying the tone/message, but shouldn't be wordy or stuffy as a norm.

    I think the latter half of the sentence, especially the bang at the end, works....but it is wordy, which is why I said that you should be aware of rhetorical devices and use wordiness sparingly.
     
  9. Lightman
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    Lightman Active Member

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    How do you figure that? A few literary authors today: Michael Chabon, Aleksander Hemon, T.C. Boyle, Cormac McCarthy, David Eggers.
    If you are not James Joyce you should not write Finnegans Wake. I like good experimental fiction, but, with all due respect, this is not good experimental fiction.
     
  10. Forkfoot
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    Forkfoot Contributing Member Contributor

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    Good art doesn't sell. The only way to earn a living at it is to churn out crap. Do it for love, or do it for money, or don't do it at all.

    Your excerpt looks cool to me. But all my favorite musicians are dirt poor.
     
  11. digitig
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    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

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    Actually, literary fiction is pretty common nowadays. Much of what I read is literary fiction, and much of that is from the best-seller lists or high-profile book-club choices.
    It depends. What are you giving the reader in exchange for struggling with a difficult writing voice?
     
  12. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I agree that your sample sentence sounds like experimental fiction, not literary fiction -- it's interesting, but largely incomprehensible. Literary fiction may sometimes require more focused concentration than genre fiction, but it doesn't normally require you to analyze each line word by word, guessing what the author might possibly mean.
     
  13. psychotick
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    psychotick Contributing Member Contributor

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    Hi,

    Personally I prefer a good story and worry less about the prose. As far as selling goes I think a lot of people are similar, and in fact one of the (oh so many!) criticisms of my work has been that I do like long flowery sentences and playing with word orders etc. But dude, that sentence you've provided, doesn't make any sense at all to me. So if I get criticised for my long, convoluted sentences, I'd expect that if your book was written like that, you'd get shot.

    Cheers.
     
  14. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    The good thing about writing literary fiction is that you don't have to worry about whether or not you're telling a good story :D

    Kidding, but it often appears that way to me when I read stuff by people who are self-described writers of "literary" fiction.
     
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  15. Chad J Sanderson
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    Chad J Sanderson Member

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    There is still a very strong community for "literary" fiction writers (Isn't all writing literary? What a strange term) and for the most part, no, their work does not sell to massive audiences. But then, it never really did. Ernest Hemingway and Edgar Allen Poe never became overwhelmingly wealthy off their prose and poetry. Not to say that all "literary" authors have Hemingway and Poe talent, but in terms of money and worldwide appreciation high-art will almost always lose out to low-art by sheer definition.

    However, that does not mean serious writers have it rough. If your work is appreciated by other authors, educators, whoever- people will buy it and pay you to talk about your work, hold craft seminars, contribute to magazines, etc.

    Now on to the work you posted. As some people have said it reads like experimental fiction, but without context it means very little. This could be either brilliant or trash, depending on what preceeds and follows it. Just because you're using high language doesn't mean the piece has instrinsic value. Hemingway (If you can't tell, one of my favorite authors) accused Faulkner of being too wordy, and Faulkner did not, in any sense of the definition, use flowery language.
     
  16. Lightman
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    Lightman Active Member

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    There are a few examples of literary writers making a lot of money - Norman Mailer and Philip Roth were getting huge advances back in the '60s.
     
  17. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    Yes. And there are some great examples of literary writers who tell great stories at the same time - Nabokov and Bolaño, for example.
     
  18. Chad J Sanderson
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    Chad J Sanderson Member

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    There were a few, but in general, the Robert Bly's and Gertrude Stein's of 2012 probably won't be rolling in the cash.
     
  19. Lemex
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    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

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    Do yourself a favor. Leave this one bit alone for a week, do something else, and then return. Then time would have passed and you would have distanced yourself a bit from it. Then reread it and see if you still think it's worth it.
     
  20. Chad J Sanderson
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    Chad J Sanderson Member

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    Herman Hesse is another great example.
     
  21. klk.yangon
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    klk.yangon Member

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    First of all, I would like to say thanks to everyone who responded.
    A'right, you see, I had failed to specify what I mean by the term "Literary"; what I meant was the writing-styles of "modernists". James Joyce isn't who I am trying to imitate but my goals are rather 'to create a dark gothic impenetrable piece' and the obstacles are of some questions: "Who would've ever read an impenetrable book?"

    And yes, money is not in my goals anyway. What I meant to say was : "Will it ever reach the public?"
    And you see, I am trying to depend the least on floweriness and rather wouldn't write two pages to describe how a window is opened on an alleyway.
    As long as I could remember the sentence would mean in general sense : I promised my boys for a tree house on one tree, so we had to take the wood from one other tree (a smaller one), and we had fallen it to the ground, and we had to trim the wood, but the whip saw was blunt, we lost interest and left the tree.....I was a lumber jack anyway.
     
  22. Batgoat
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    Batgoat Senior Member

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    Why not write it in general sense in the first place? What you wrote was convoluted and a bit pretentious and would really only go "public" to a very select clique. By all means, write the story how you see fit, but I cannot perceive of many people wanting to delve into it... at least not with the same salivating desire they'd munch through a non-literary bestseller.
     
  23. madhoca
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    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

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    Literary fiction can sell well if it means something--the words paint pictures in the mind, or the novel offers an alternative, deeper way of looking at a situation, for example. Your excerpt seems awkward to me, with pointless and annoying repetition. IMO it wouldn't sell to anyone. This doesn't mean you shouldn't continue working with a more complex style, though, but you need a lot more work, and good feedback from a teacher, I'd say. Also, 'literary' does not mean every other word has to be archaic, as in your example.
     
  24. topeka sal
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    topeka sal Senior Member

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    Why do you want to write a book that's impenetrable? I have to say the idea feels a bit arrogant to me. Are you trying to impress ("look at what a genius I am!") and "be original"? I have to say that originality for originality's sake is almost never interesting. If you want your prose to be impenetrable you are putting style over substance and I personally can't think of a good reason to do it.

    I notice you are very young, and -- I hope you don't mind me saying so -- this explains a lot of your zeal to prove you are "original"... to madden and mystify and leave readers going "I don't understand it so it must be visionary." Many people your age go through this. I certainly wanted to shift all the paradigms and make people go "Wow!". But I learned that generosity is more important than pyrotechnics. To have respect for the reader, a wish to communicate and a sensitive ear. I think you'll find that these are what most writers of literary fiction have in common.

    But I don't think that it will do you any harm to embark on this project if that is what you really want to do. You are young. You should experiment and fail and test the waters again and again. You're just beginning to learn. And if there is ever a time in life for self-indulgence in one's art, it's when one is young. So do it! If this is what truly excites you, try it out. Get it out of your system. Maybe even succeed. But consider it a learning experience. The main thing is to not get too hung up on what you think you "should" be writing but at the same time be open to criticism, suggestions, and growth as a writer and person.
     
  25. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    First, learn the terminology.

    Second, remember what writing is about - communication. The excerpt, as others have said, is meaningless as is. Even in context I doubt it would be clear. In context, I doubt most readers would get to that point.

    Third - remember that before you can reinvent the wheel, you first have to understand how it actually works. Learn your craft - then start experimenting with it.
     

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